Vera Baird: Former Solicitor General tells police to give up on tackling low-level drug use "to save time"

Police chief is ignoring drug use… because it takes up too much timeVera Baird will not target drug use as Northumbria's Police CommissionerCouncillors speak out against plan and insist drug trade must be stopped

By
Jack Doyle

PUBLISHED:

12:28 GMT, 1 April 2013

|

UPDATED:

01:02 GMT, 2 April 2013

An elected police commissioner will not prioritise low-level drug users because it will take up too much of her officers’ time.

Former Labour minister Vera Baird QC, who is in charge of the Northumbria police force, has ignored drug use in her new policing plan.

Her office has justified the move on the grounds that combating low-level drug use would mean taking officers off the streets.

No prio: Police commissioner Vera Baird said her officers will not focus on low-level drugs as it takes up too much of their time

No prio: Police commissioner Vera Baird said her officers will not focus on low-level drugs as it takes up too much of their time

The plan has led to claims that the
former solicitor general, who is in charge of the force for five years,
is ignoring ‘significant concerns’ among local people.

And it flies in the face of the views expressed by Britain’s most senior policeman, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, who earlier this year said he supported ‘robust’ policing of drug use.

The Met Commissioner even suggested
that thousands of workers should be routinely tested for illegal
substances as part of measures to reduce demand.

At
a meeting of the local police and crime panel, Mrs Baird’s deputy, Mark
Dennett, was asked why the policing plan made no mention of drugs, or
set a drug-dealing reduction target.

Revelation: Ms Baird's deputy Mark Dennett, right, defended the policy in front of councillors recently

Revelation: Ms Baird's deputy Mark Dennett, right, defended the policy in front of councillors recently

Ex minister who refused to clean up after her dog

Ex minister who refused to clean up after her dog

He replied: ‘We did not put drugs in the plan in terms of priorities because that is the best way to use our resources.

‘Drugs
is an issue and will continue to be something we tackle at the highest
level, but the vast majority of our drug seizures are people who are
brought into the station for a different reason and have drugs on them
when we search them.

‘If I put drugs in the plan, there is a danger that beat police officers will not be on the streets in your neighbourhoods.’

But
Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes said: ‘We need to maintain a
strong presence on the streets for our police but I am really concerned
about the impact of drugs on our communities and I know there are
significant concerns from residents particularly about the drug use in
parts of the city.

‘It is
important to me that people involved in peddling drugs know that they
will face the full force of the law for their actions.’

A
spokesman at Mrs Baird’s office later claimed: ‘To keep this in
context, drug crime was not mentioned as a priority by the public in any
of the consultation undertaken, including in Newcastle.’

But
the policing plan makes clear that in a public consultation survey,
‘alcohol and drug-related crimes’ came second among the public in terms
of their concerns, and was mentioned by one in five respondents.

And
Mrs Baird herself cited drugs as an issue when criticising council cuts
to youth services last year, warning that ‘drug crime is on the
increase’.

The document
lists five priorities: putting victims first; reducing crime; dealing
with anti-social behaviour; tackling domestic and sexual abuse; building
community confidence.

On
drugs, it says police will deal with major organised crime, including
dealers. It states: ‘The police will focus relentlessly on those
involved in organised crime causing the most harm in our communities, in
particular those involved in the supply of drugs.’

Last
night, Phil Butler, the former detective who ran as the Conservative
candidate for the commissioner post, said: ‘Although I recognise that
highlighting one issue such as drugs in a policing plan can divert
resources, it should not be forgotten that drugs are crime’s
money-maker.’